John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks Upon Presenting the NASA Distinguished Service Medal to Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper

May 21, 1963

First, perhaps we could have all the people here who have flown in space to come down here--Commander Shepard, Commander Carpenter, and some of the others. Would you all come down and join us? This is a very small, exclusive group.

We are delighted to welcome them and their wives. John Glenn is visiting Japan, but I know he is with us in spirit. We have had a number of these ceremonies at the White House and at Cape Canaveral to pay tribute to a very distinguished group of Americans who have, in our time, in this rather settled society, demonstrated that there are great frontiers still to be crossed and in flying through space have carried with them the wishes, the prayers, the hopes, and the pride of 180 million of their fellow countrymen.

We are delighted to honor today the most recent of this very exclusive group, Major Cooper, who went furthest in space and did so on the anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's flight to Paris. Charles Lindbergh took approximately the same time to go about 1 /150 of the distance of Major Cooper. Both flights were equally hazardous; both were equally daring.

I think one of the things which warmed us the most during this flight was the realization that however extraordinary computers may be that we are still ahead of them and that man is still the most extraordinary computer of all. His judgment, his nerve, and the lessons he can learn from experience still make him unique and, therefore, make manned flight necessary and not merely that of satellites. I hope that we will be encouraged to continue with this program. I know that a good many people say, "Why go to the moon," just as many people said to Lindbergh, "Why go to Paris." Lindbergh said, "It is not so much a matter of logic as it is a feeling."

I think the United States has committed itself to this great adventure in the sixties. I think before the end of the sixties we will send a man to the moon, an American, and I think in so doing it is not merely that we are interested in making this particular journey but we are interested in demonstrating a dominance of this new sea, and making sure that in this new, great, adventurous period the Americans are playing their great role, as they have in the past. Most of all, we are very proud of Major Cooper and his family and we are very proud that our country continues to produce these young men who go so far and carry with them so much.

So, Major, we are glad to welcome you and your mother here, and your wife, and your two children and to tell you that you have given the United States a great day and a great lift!

His citation says, "His outstanding flight demonstrated man's ability to conduct engineering and scientific investigations in orbital space flight and added significantly to man's knowledge of space technology."

That is a very technical way of saying it, but it says all we want to say.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:15 p.m. in the Flower Garden at the White House.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks Upon Presenting the NASA Distinguished Service Medal to Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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